Schools/Youth Rugby: Boroughmuir excel in Merchiston Festival

Coaches from both the schools and the club sectors call for greater integration in Scotland

Boroughmuir defeated Stewart’s-Melville College during the pool stage of the festival and ended up as Scotland's top-ranked team, finishing third overall. Image: Steve Langmead
Boroughmuir defeated Stewart’s-Melville during the pool stage of the festival and ended up as Scotland's top-ranked team, finishing third overall. Image: Steve Langmead

INTEGRATING the top layers of schools and clubs in a meaningful competition has, for some years, been a hot topic in Scottish rugby. But until recently such a move has been dismissed on the presumption that clubs were never sufficiently strong to mix it with the best of the independent schools. 

Last weekend, Boroughmuir under-18s punctured that perception after emerging from the highly successful Merchiston Rugby Festival at Colinton as the highest placed Scottish side, signing off a memorable tournament with victory over the host school in the 3rd/4th place play-off.

Over the two-day event the Meggetland under-18s, produced five winning performances from their six matches, their scalps including the ultimate tournament winners Seaford College, as well as Uppingham School and Stewart’s-Melville College on the Saturday which gave Boroughmuir a top finish in their pool.

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In Sunday’s re-ranked pool stage, Boroughmuir defeated fellow club standard-bearers, Stirling County, the group A winners, but then struggled against the sheer physicality of Bedford School, who fielded a side that would not have looked out of place in an under-20 competition, when going down to their only defeat of the tournament.

However, in that play-off against Merchiston, Boroughmuir rediscovered their mojo to secure a 5-0 victory.

Boroughmuir also scooped the Player-of-the-Tournament accolade, awarded to their dynamic back row, Liam McConnell, the son of former Selkirk player, Keith McConnell.

“Finishing as the top Scottish side was testament to the hard work the boys have put in through our Academy,” said Scott Anderson, Boroughmuir’s Academy director. “The Merchiston Festival is a great tournament. Six hard games over two days. Every game was a real tough match”.

Then, in a plea for parity with top schools rugby, he added: “Hopefully people are now listening to what’s happening. All the Scottish clubs who are at this tournament have all done well. We’ve shown that we can compete and play against top school sides from here and down south”

Roddy Deans, the Merchiston Director of Rugby, who was the driver behind creating this event, believes that the festival  offers the opportunity for schools and clubs to test themselves in a different arena.

Speaking at the conclusion of the two-day event, he said: “I’m extremely happy with the way the tournament’s gone. We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to run this [because of Covid] but so glad we did. The level of competition was high. On day one, there was some excellent rugby because the ball was dry. It was really good to see some of the clubs turning over top independent schools.

“The idea of the tournament is to help grow the game in Scotland and getting the clubs involved meant more competition. It was good for Merchiston to have more competitive games. Playing Boroughmuir exposed us to a different style of game. We had to fight fire with fire. It was a great game.

“The English teams bring another challenge because of size and physicality. So boys being able to adapt to that and finding ways of playing around them is good. To see some of the boys put their bodies in front of some of these English boys was amazing.’”


Merchiston finished top of their group on Saturday with wins over Wycliffe College (22-0) and Ayr (40-5) and a draw (7-7) against the tournament runners-up, Bedford College.

One place below Merchiston was George Watson’s College who defeated Stirling County 13-5 in the 5th/6th play-off match. That scoreline reversed the result between the two sides in Saturday’s pool stage when the Bridgehaugh youngsters, who like Watson’s were below strength, finished top of their pool having additionally defeated Merchiston’s B side and drawn with Colston’s School from Bristol.

Like Watson’s, Stewarts-Melville College were missing several first choice players, but as their coach Stuart Edwards explained: “We fielded a mixed side containing some of our better second team players.”  As a consequence the Inverleith side struggled in what was a very strong pool on Saturday, albeit losing narrowly to the eventual winners Seaford College in an impressive performance before defeats to Boroughmuir and Uppingham School.

Also making their mark in the tournament was Ayr RFC, who showed their best form in Saturday’s pool stage when they ran a power-packed Bedford School close,  losing by one score in a 14-19 thriller. Then, in a hard 7th/8th play-off match on Sunday, Ayr put in a defiant display before losing 13-5 to Colston’s School. Ayr coach Bryan Crossan is convinced that this is the type of competition clubs need.

He said: “We’re up here playing against the best of English and Scottish schools. If you’re going to raise the standard of club rugby you really need to get in with the schools. We need to bring schools and clubs together. That’s the future of the game.”

Final Placings:  1. Seaford College,  2. Bedford School,  3. Boroughmuir u18s, 4. Merchiston Castle School, 5. George Watson’s College, 6. Stirling County u18s, 7. Colston’s School, 8. Ayr u18s, 9. Uppingham School, 10. Stewart’s-Melville College, 11. Wycliffe College, 12. Merchiston B.

ELSEWHERE in under-18 rugby, Hawick Youth and EarlstonHS/Melrose Wasps are separated by just one point in the Borders Semi Junior League. Hawick Youth remain undefeated after achieving a 29-6 victory over Selkirk YC while Wasps were 28-5 winners over Kelso Quins.

Wasps’ tries came from centre Finn Douglas, flanker Ben Weir,  centre Matthew Flannigan and prop Robbie Robinson, all four scores converted by stand-off Luke Townsend. Wasps’ coach Jerry Brett commented: “Probably the best start to a game we’ve made so far but Kelso did well to rein us in during the second half”.  For Quins, Ashton Asante scored a try.

Another club in high scoring form was Gala Wanderers who inflicted a 51-17 defeat on Alnwick. Wanderers’ tries were scored by Fraser Wilson, Ker Johnston (3), Gregor Collins (2), Ricky Mitchell and James Glendinning.

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About Alan Lorimer 340 Articles
Scotland rugby correspondent for The Times for six years and subsequently contributed to Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Scotsman, Herald, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald and Reuters. Worked in Radio for BBC. Alan is Scottish rugby journalism's leading voice when it comes to youth and schools rugby.


  1. Can someone confirm the age cut-off dates please that the teams were using?

    Presume the “U18” Club sides (and English Schools and Merchiston) were “1-September” cut-off;
    but the Scottish school sides were “S6/S5” so therefore a “1-March” (official School cut-off) or “1-January” (to include deferred kids) date.

    This would mean the “U18” sides were between 6 to 4 months older.

    At that age it makes all the difference, and has always been an issue when a Scottish school played an English one.

    – the International/Representative cut-off date is “1-January”
    – the Scottish school system is a “1-March” cut-off. (deferred kids to “1-January”)
    – the English school system is a “1-September” cut-off.
    – the Scottish Club U18 cut-off is “1-September”

    The only way that School and Club rugby can integrate successfully and fairly, is if the SRU sort out the mismatch in ages.
    Adopting “1-January” as the recognised date in Scotland seems to match the most fixed variables.

  2. Would be interesting to see how Clubs compete against schools in 80 minute games instead of 15 minute short-format versions.

    • Youth rugby is 35 min each way….it would be more interesting if schools were not stealing club players at every opportunity aided by the SRU ignoring so many talented club players thus making ambitious youngsters feel they have no choice. The previous incarnation of this tournament pre covid saw club sides doing equally as well as top school sides as did a tournament hosted at the Oriam. There is very little between the top club sides and the top performing school sides once you get to u18s. The only real difference is how little interest the development programme has in club players.

  3. An excellent initiative well done to Merchiston for taking the lead on this. One observation – if all the teams were missing players presumably it was a level playing field? Well done Ayr and Boroughmuir.

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